The pandemic has made safety the new hospitality – and as a result, safety information about your restaurant is becoming a bigger commodity. This spring, Yelp announced a new partnership with Hazel Analytics, which uses data-driven technology to improve public health. Hazel Analytics now powers the hygiene data on hundreds of thousands of Yelp pages, pulling information from health departments across 48 states. If you need guidance on the best ways to tackle food safety challenges with fewer staff, contact Team Four and we can help you get on track.
Restaurant operators are having to do more with less these days – and that can expose them to risks they were able to manage more easily before the pandemic. The current operating environment calls for a robust risk management plan that reflects today’s challenges and the need to cut corners. Your insurer can help you assess your existing operation and get a clearer sense of your biggest liabilities – whether they relate to your property, worker’s compensation, delivery, cyber, employment practices or some other aspect of business – and advise you of what steps to take now to prevent those risks from becoming costly problems.
Your staff needs to be able to focus on preparing food, serving guests and keeping your facility clean. Drains and dishwashers that are slow to clear, and other equipment that isn’t working effectively can not only consume your staff’s time but also potentially cause a food safety problem. As the new year begins, make it a priority to check equipment and schedule any needed maintenance and repairs to ensure your staff can stay focused on the task of serving guests.
If you’re like many operators managing a high degree of employee turnover right now, you’re having to prioritize both constant onboarding of new and/or temporary staff, as well as enhanced cleaning procedures. If you’re continuing to use any manual processes to conduct and track safety checks, this can enable staff to tick boxes on checklists without actually completing necessary tasks, exposing your operation to food safety problems. Using a digital system to ensure safety protocols are followed can also make it easier to conduct self-audits between third-party audits, so you can ensure your business stays on track between inspections.
Better food safety practices are likely to be among the permanent effects of the pandemic for foodservice operations. To ensure your improved practices have staying power, it’s important to bring together the various metrics you use to evaluate your food safety – including inspections from health departments and third parties as well as your own assessments – then review them regularly and communicate them clearly to staff. Comparing results over time and synthesizing evaluations from different sources can help you identify problem spots that need attention and translate them into clear action items for your team.
The intense heat people are experiencing in many parts of the country this summer, along with ongoing labor shortages and supply chain challenges, require some extra vigilance when to comes to food safety. Trucks may be taking longer to get foods to their destinations, providing more opportunities for food to be exposed to the temperature danger zone – particularly in record-breaking heat. Take extra care right now in checking deliveries to ensure food is being delivered at safe temperatures, is labeled with expected use-by dates, and shows no evidence of damage or decay (e.g. unsealed packaging or evidence of pests or freezer burn). Also be aware of foods that may be dangerous to eat due to the temperature spikes in parts of the country.
As you continue to build business back up after the constraints of the pandemic, you may be feeling the need to cut corners and revert to manual processes that you had been delegating to technology. Food Safety Tech reports that restaurants that had been using operational software to monitor food safety processes may be slipping back to the pen-and-clipboard method in an effort to contain costs on tech. Or, those that had been integrating more smart devices into their operation – remote temperature sensors or Bluetooth temperature probes, for example – may be using not-so-smart methods to track food safety practices if and when those devices break or need replacement. While this may be unavoidable in the near term, it just means that some extra precision is required at each stage to ensure your food safety standards aren’t slipping.
Is your team always inspection-ready? If not, having interim inspections can help your team develop the procedures it needs to form better habits – and make the actual inspection not such a big deal. Get an up-to-date copy of your local health inspector’s evaluation criteria and use it to fine-tune your existing procedures and division of tasks during each shift. If you’re in the midst of onboarding new staff and concerned about having tasks fall through the cracks as you get everyone up to speed, it can also help to use task management software to generate lists of tasks for employees to carry out. This can keep people on track regardless of how long they have been with you and who is around to assign tasks.
As you open your doors to guests this spring, the windows and doors helping you ventilate your facility could also make it easier for pests to find their way inside. Check screens on windows and doors for holes and other damage, and if you have storage areas or outbuildings that haven’t been used as frequently during the pandemic, check for rodent activity. Inspect the exterior of your facility for cracks and trim back any brush that could harbor pests close to your walls. Ensure any sticky spills aren’t left for long periods, particularly if you have staff and guests circulating regularly between indoor and outdoor seating areas. Finally, since insects can hitch a ride into your kitchen on contaminated food, be sure to check your food deliveries for pest activity upon arrival and to store them promptly afterwards.
The pandemic has changed the game for the long term when it comes to safety at restaurants. Protocols to keep people safe are no longer just in the purview of health inspectors but are also of greater interest to your customers and the general public – and an extension of the service you offer. It’s more important than ever to be able to respond knowledgeably and professionally to scrutiny and misinformation about your food safety when you are questioned about it by customers or online reviews. Support your staff by creating quizzes and contests that arm them with scientific facts they should have at their fingertips, then reward compliance. Incorporate everything from pandemic-related safety measures related to how the virus spreads, to longstanding safety measures related to handwashing, allergen safety and contamination prevention.